CURTIS: So I can vote early, but I can’t vote often?
SMITH: Correct! And that’s one issue that we think’s very important to bring the AEC into the modern world. They trialled it in the Griffith by-election in every booth and it was a stunning success.
CURTIS: And what about measures to speed up the counting of the vote?
SMITH: What they could look at—and this is happening overseas and the AEC’s aware of it—is scanning of ballot papers. That would have a couple of benefits. Scanning occurs in some jurisdictions at the territory level. It is highly accurate; it gives you a pretty quick result. But more importantly than all of that, it’s an extra verification process; you still do that manual count. That sort of technology—these are the first steps the AEC should be focusing on. And obviously from a practical level with what occurred at the Western Australian election, there were a lot of calls for electronic voting but really the AEC is midway through a massive reform program, and they’ve got to stick to that.
CURTIS: What’s the international experience? Because there are countries that either have some form of electronic voting, or having looked at implementing it.
SMITH: It’s a very good question Lyndal. Most people would think the world is moving to electronic voting in either form—either in what they call static electronic voting, so that’s machines at the polling booths, or internet voting., The truth is countries are moving away. Ireland purchased a whole lot of machines and was ready to go until they found all sorts of safety and security problems. The Dutch have just withdrawn. In the United States, where they’ve had a long history of machine electronic voting, states have withdrawing, they’ve had problems and the high costs associated with them. Voting over the internet occurs in Estonia and they’ve been criticisms of that system as well. But essentially when it comes to internet voting, which would be the most convenient, the security’s not there at the moment. I’ve got no doubt with technological advances, it’ll be there with acceptable risks—there’s risks in any system—but then the public and the Parliament need to ask the question: will this fundamentally change the nature of how we vote?
CURTIS: How could it change the nature of how we vote? Would it mean there’s maybe less commitment on the part of people because they can just hop up in the morning, press a button go away without thinking about it too much?
SMITH: Well that’s the voter’s choice but what we have enshrined is the right to vote but equally importantly, Lyndal, is the right to a secret vote. And that’s guaranteed in the seclusion of a polling place. And with internet voting, the privacy’s at risk for the obvious reasons of hacking and manipulation I’ve mentioned. But also it changes the whole nature of voting. Instead of families going down and voting individually, you could have, as the experts said, coercion—a subtle coercion—if you’re voting at home, or in the workplace, or in a public place. And one academic even made the point about opening up a market for votes. And so it would be a fundamental change.
CURTIS: A final question The ACT has had electronic voting for some time. Why isn’t the experience in the ACT able to be replicated across the country?
SMITH: It’s a good question. The ACT has it at about six locations and it is really as easy as it gets in the ACT. I mean, in Australia, you’re talking about thousands of polling places. In the ACT they have it at the pre-poll centres and they’re open on the day, and that’s as far as they’ve been able to run it. To run it nationally, a machine-based system would be a massive expense. And of course, you wouldn’t—you couldn’t—as some people say, save all the other costs because it would be a very big step to say it’s compulsory and we’re going to prevent people from voting in a paper ballot, particularly elderly people. So, the ACT is an example of a small location where it’s as good as it gets in terms of the geography and the costs.
CURTIS: And the prospect of electronic changes to allow electronic voting to happen—the prospect of technological changes—they would be years, potentially decades, off?
SMITH: Well, what we know is technology moves rapidly. But at this point in time, the experts say it’s a very simple case of just don’t do it. And we quote one of the experts in the report. In fact, there’s been hacking of various systems. The academics swear they can hack these systems. And the fact some haven’t been hacked, the evidence was it’s just because no-one’s tried yet.
CURTIS: Tony Smith, on that note, thank-you very much for your time.
SMITH: Thanks Lyndal.
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